2023 May

misty start to the day
misty start to the day

May started with the Spring booster shot for Covid. It seems we are on the list for Insch for the Covid shots now. It’s not the easiest place to get too, being very rural roads – but the little cottage hospital is quite the nicest and most friendly vaccination centre we’ve been sent to.
But the vaccination shots are always a struggle for my PVS/ME. A couple of days in bed with mainly liquids and sleeping – that’s the ‘knock-out’ – followed by a week or two to get back to some level of energy, sleeping, and eating. The big challenge is to take it slowly. I feel OK for an hour or two, and try to do too much!

It has been a very slow start this year … winter has dragged on and on. It started early in the autumn, and hasn’t released it’s grip fully yet.

back rockery

As May progresses the season does seem to be changing to the ‘summer’ pattern. The back rockery has really taken off, and is spilling over with colour! The temperatures are rising!

In the front garden we have our fragrant yellow hedge of Azalea Luteum spilling over with bright colour! It has taken years of careful work to reach this state, and we are quite proud with the results!

yellow azalea luteum

The temperature’s improving, but there’s no rainfall. It looks like we will be repeating last year, when we had to get out the hosepipes and start to water round the most vulnerable plants. It was tiring, but essential to keep the garden alive!
With the return of some warmth and sunshine, we also have a chance to discover just how bad the damage is in the garden after the 8 months+ of ‘winter’. There’s a lot of freezer burn on all the bushes, and quite a few of the smaller plants have perished. Not a pretty sight! And the drought that is shaping up will not make recovery easy.

white rhododendrons

But as the month progresses the rhodies and smaller azaleas bring wonderful colour back into our garden and lives! I have a yellow azalea luteum under my bedroom window. Its fragrance is so welcome.

The top layer of the front garden is full of the red, white and yellow of the azaleas and rhododendrons. The colours are so bright and cheerful.
But soon they will be past their best and the potentillas will take over!

The front garden in May

It is time to move the geraniums and other plants that we have over-wintered in the hallway back out into the shelter of the porch, where they can catch the morning sunshine.

As the warmth, sunshine and dry conditions persist we can finally think about taking a look at the world around us, and collecting some photos along with the fresh air and exercise!

Goldie filter infrared Fyvie path

I took one of my Infrared cameras with me when we finally managed to spend a morning in Fyvie Castle gardens. The harsh winter has taken a toll, with so much of the pathways overgrown with weeds.

There are still so many signs of Storm Arwen! It devastated so many trees. But there are still some standing proud! The other sad thing is the Avian Flu which means we cannot feed to ducks!

infrared Fyvie trees
Daphne in a miniature vase

The indoor shooting is never laid aside! Here I was determined to capture the Daphne bush with its delicate star-like pink flowers. And a Yuta Segawa Japanese miniature vase is the ideal companion!

And there is always the fascination with light and glass prisms and spheres! Here with a backdrop of a blue patterned winter scarf. The play of light, and a bit of post-processing too!

Blue lensball

And so on to June, and
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2023 April

4 generation of iPhones
4 generation of iPhones

I decided to dedicate this month’s Journal to the world of technology, and how it has impacted my/our lives, especially since the pandemic – though the changes started a while before with the move from Windows XP to Windows 10.
It has been a seismic shift for so many of us, and a shift that will be permanent, I think. The speed of change that has been forced on us has been hard to keep up with.

I considered myself quite ‘tech-savvy’ before Covid hit – I’d been running websites since the mid 1990s, both personal and about the developing hand-held computers … the forerunners of mobile phones. I was interested in the personal computer dimension more than the phone aspect, as I was disabled and housebound. So I bought the very first iPod Touch.

iPod Touch and earbuds

The operating system was the same as the first iPhone, which made life easier later on! Seen here with earbuds and several iPods, crammed with music.

By the time mobile phones really took off, several operating systems were familiar to me!

I’d also had a keen interest in the technology of CDs, DVDs and their tape-based forerunners. I’d been a Walkman user since the early 1980s, and a keen user of digital music ever since …. taking music with me wherever I went.

Music, podcasts and radio recordings were loaded onto my iPods, and played through speaker ‘docks’. Of course the ‘docks’ usually needed to be plugged into a wall socket – so not really portable!

iPod Touch and Klipsch dock

So by 2019 I was well equipped with digital machines, and quite familiar with a range of home and online services and personal players. I’d even ditched my old Nokia phone, and moved to the iPhone, starting with the iPhone 5!
We had just bought our first smart TV, and our PCs and laptops were all hooked up to the internet. I’d been posting to the photographic website Flickr since 2012 – so I guess I was quite well prepared when Covid hit us as 2020 began!

Now the world changed in ways we weren’t expecting, and the pace of change accelerated. Shopping online was something we were used to – living remotely it was always an essential for us. So we had some existing accounts we could use. But with lockdown it became essential to order everything online, even the weekly grocery shopping trips were forbidden! We were all now prisoners in our own homes.
We were luckier than most, in having a good sized garden for a little exercise. But being in the ‘shielding’ group, at least initially, we couldn’t ‘stray’ further. And the links to the outside world by phone and mainly by Wi-Fi broadband became increasingly important.
Online banking, online shopping, emailing – all had been part of our lives before – but they became the only means of conducting our lives.

Perhaps the biggest technological ‘leap’ came with the development of the smartphone Apps. There is now an app for almost everything! I didn’t expect to be conducting banking business, or paying bills by smartphone. I was used to using the computer for financial transactions … but surely not my iPhone? But yes – it has become possibly the most essential piece of technology most of us need to function in 2023!

Apple watch iPhone etc
My Apple ‘kit’

It has been an accelerating (and very expensive) journey through the Covid years! And now, in what we call our “post-covid” year(s) I find myself fully equipped with an iPhone that can ‘talk’ to the world, read the news, alert me to the next refuse collection, or local roadworks, pay bills and play music, listen to the radio or watch TV. A watch that can monitor my health as well as tell the time, tell me the weather and alert me to emails, iMessages and so much more. Airpods that can give me all the quality of sound reproduction I could get from a speaker dock, and silently so as not to disturb Mike.
All told, 2019 seems a long time ago, and another way of life!

And so on to May, and I turn my mind to summer
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2023 March

glass and prisms
Colourful with glass and prisms

March is so often the grey and bleak tail-end of winter. As the snow comes and goes, the slush and rain take over. And here the farmers begin to plough fields ready for Spring sowing. The trees are still bare, and the colours all so drab!
So our long winter continues. This is the 6th month when it has been so cold we need the central heating on 24/7. It is truly a bleak and brutal winter. I’ve been looking for both warmth and colour through the lenses of my camera. And I’ve chosen glass and prisms set against a bright orange scarf to offer a warm alternative to the outside world!

Turriff park lake

After so many years we have ‘discovered’ Turriff park and lake!
Although it is still colourless and cold there, I took my Lensbaby (the ‘original’ I started with in 2013) and added some lensbaby fly-away effects to the winter lake.

Looking across the howe from our garden, and using a telephoto lens to catch the sun brightening the world and revealing the winter white that still dominates our lives!

winter across the howe

Most mornings start with scraping ice off the cars, spreading grit and salt on the slippery paths, feeding the birds as well as we can, and keeping the ice off their water dishes.
Then curling up and keeping warm indoors, wrapped up in quilts and sipping hot drinks.

dried hydrangea petals

With our world still dominated by winter the garden is low on photographic interest. Here dried flower heads from our blue ‘mop-head’ hydrangeas are caught as the sun melted the ice on the petals (using my oldest Helios lens)

A real snow storm in early March, caught this time with the Zeiss Makro 50mm lens. Again the dried flower heads of the hydrangea – looking so different in the background bokeh!

March snow in the garden

I move as many planters as possible indoors to overwinter – many of them my delicate pink geraniums.

unexpected March blossom

And they occasionally reward me with a fresh and delicate flower to cheer the indoor world, and provide me with a lovely subject to shoot! Here with one of my newest miniature Japanese vases.

And being confined to the warm indoor world, I search through my ever growing store of photo props to celebrate each new day! I bought a large collection of marbles on eBay one year. Always a delight to shoot.

balancing a marble

I decided to concentrate on my internal world this month, rather than the external and political events that continue to swirl around us. Together with books and music my photography forms the bedrock of my creative life. We have each other – which is the absolutely essential bedrock on which everything else is built. And we have been so lucky to be able to support each other through the long (and ongoing) pandemic experience. We do feel the impact, especially in energy terms – the stresses are always leaking energy. I suspect we are all on the edge of exhaustion as we contemplate the coming months!

And so on to April, and I turn my mind to more technical matters!
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2023 February

miniature bench with hearts
miniature bench with hearts

It ‘s not often I give a nod towards celebrating Valentine’s Day …. the commercialisation that has developed around it is not to my taste. But this year we all seem to be feeling the fragility of life, and the importance of our close relationships. So I’ve been shooting some heart-shaped images. Here using the miniature bench I found recently.

There’s something haunting about this image that appeals to me. The bench, sitting in the sunshine surrounded by nothing but shadows is poignant. And my mind made a link with the current major news event – a massive earthquake in Turkey and Syria. The complete devastation of entire towns and cities – and the plight of those homeless ‘lucky’ survivors lost in a world of rubble.

February began here with wild storms, which brought back memories of last year, when we were recovering from Storm Arwen, and counting the cost in every way, especially health. Six days with no power left a long legacy – it took many months to recover, and feel warm again. This year we have got more emergency supplies in store, but are apprehensive about a bad winter.

The other thread that runs through everything is the run-away inflation. Managing the running costs of our home, keeping warm and properly fed – these were not things we expected to be concerned about in the 21st century. But I find myself recalling my early childhood when rationing was a major part of daily life, and the everyday budget was always to the forefront of my mother’s mind!
13 years of Tory ‘austerity’ have cut the UK to the bone – there is no excess meat on the bone! Add in Brexit, and we were on our knees as a nation before Russia invaded Ukraine.
The best we can do is to keep a close eye on the finances, and try to keep a healthy and optimistic frame of mind! Plenty of rest, plenty of binge watching using our smart TV, and as much photography as possible!

miniature vase and hydrangea

Using my favourite old Helios 44-2 lens, shooting one of my newest miniature vases from Yuta Segawa with just a few wisps of last year’s hydrangeas. Set in the cool winter sunshine.

One of my fun ways to enjoy indoor (winter) shooting is to play with everyday things such as cutlery, and enjoy experimenting with their bright surfaces!

back of the spoon hearts

One thing that is a direct consequence of the pandemic is that I have lost touch with all my assorted cameras and lenses! I have collected so many lenses, and several makes of camera too over the 11+ years of photography. Lenses for all kinds of subjects, all kinds of weather, and all manner of optical effects.
As 2020 began we suddenly found ourselves in lockdown and ‘shielding’ too. Suddenly the extent of my photographic ‘canvas’ shrank to indoors. As the warmer weather came our favourite places to walk and shoot were closed. Activity, exercise, and photographic opportunities were virtually nil!
And over those 3+ years I have had cameras and lenses that have never (or only rarely) seen the light of day. I have begun to consciously choose a couple of ‘unused’ lenses to work with, but I am finding that it takes more than a week or two to re-familiarise with a lens! I need longer to be able to effortlessly get the kind of results I could pre-pandemic!
So my current lenses are Lensbaby optics (several optics on 2 NEX-6 bodies) and Helios 44-2 and 44-M on NEX-6 and NEX-7 bodies.

macro clock spindle

This is a Lensbaby Sweet 40 with added 8mm macro ring. Usually the Sweet 50 would be a ‘go to’ lens for walking around Leith Hall gardens or Fyvie Castle.

And this is my oldest Helios lens, a 44-2 that is frozen at F2. Here catching ice droplets on the Japanese plum tree by our gate. No buds yet, but I am beginning to get the lens outdoors once again!

sunshine bokeh

The 3 cameras I have kept using all through the pandemic are my main macro camera, A Sony 77m2 with the 100mm tele-macro lens – an original Sony RX100 – a Sony RX10m3.
Yes – I am a Sony camera lover!
So the addition of the two specialised lenses has kept me busy since last Christmas. I’ve still got a lot more to explore, with the lenses and additional macro rings. But I feel I am making a start!

winter trees in B+W

Here using the Lensbaby double glass optic for a landscape shot across the howe. The typical lensbaby focus and fly-away blur. Just walking along to the Kirk. Rendered in B+W.

And my ‘go to’ lens for shooting across the howe – the Sony RX10m3. Usually much used to shoot during trips up the coast, or at Leith Hall, where there are good distance shots to be had.

February dawn
view of a stormy morning

And my main way of recording the landscape as we drive along (mainly going shopping!) The RX100. In all kinds of weather, travelling at speed, it can capture such amazing images!

And so February has passed, with me trying to keep warm, cheerful and active. Avoiding the news is a significant positive step! There is little I can do to effect what goes on in the country or in the wider world. Luckily we have had no power cuts, so both Sky Box and smart TV streaming channels have kept us both entertained!

On to March – the indoor winter experience
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2023 January

new specs
I can see clearly now …….

And so the new year begins …. and I have some new things to celebrate.
I have finally found the lightest spectacles I have ever seen. So light I hardly know I’m wearing them. Rimless and with thin titanium arms they have revolutionised the seeing experience for this reluctant late-comer to the world of varifocal specs. I just had to photograph them in celebration!

Small world chair and bear

I have added a new ‘small world’ to my photo prop collection. Inspired by a fellow Flickr-ite I discovered Minimum World where they make miniature furniture and more. All hand-made and beautiful.

So I am beginning to explore the ways in which I can combine my love of macro photography with all the possibilities of story telling that these new finds can offer.

Small world bench

In the dark days of winter I have been shooting indoors, and I love to play with prisms, glass and light ….

glass and light

Add a brightly coloured scarf as a backdrop, and there are so many surprises for the camera lens – and for me too! Not quite an abstract, but it is difficult to discern the elements.

Take the same elements of prisms and glass surfaces and shine LED lights of several colours at them, and more mysterious abstracts appear. Move the lights or the prisms a little and the image changes…

LED bokeh

Another way to use the photographic potential of the winter months, is the low winter sun. The sun is late to rise, and never reaches the heights of the Spring or summer months. So catching the moments when the sun does shine, there are long shadows to be captured.

light play with forks

Catching that low winter sun shining through the window. The shadows are not deeply strong and dark … but they can seem to stretch on forever!

Position the subject just right, and at ‘high noon’ the sun has enough intensity to give multiple shadows. There is so much fun to be had with just 2 forks!

light play with forks 2

But January wouldn’t be complete without recording the latest venture into the world of technology. Yes … time to upgrade the technology we all depend on more and more as so much of daily life moves online. So, a new iPhone was added to our tech. store.
I was fortunate enough (if that is the right word) to fall down the rabbit hole into the world of Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome when the first developments of what would become today’s smartphones were happening. And I got into the cutting edge tech of the time back in the 1990s, while running a website called FoxPop. On the website I could follow and review the latest gadgets from Psion and Geofox in the UK.
“The Geofox One was a sub-notebook styled PDA that used Psion’s EPOC32 OS in 1997.”
And later we added the Blackberry, and other handheld organisers. Developments in miniaturisation led to handheld organisers and small laptops coming closer and closer in size and power… until we have a smartphone today that is many times more sophisticated and powerful than a large laptop of 2000!
The years I spent running the FoxPop website gave me a head start in understanding the technological revolution that has swept the 21st century world into the online, connected, digital world it is today.
So – despite being in the age-range of those who struggle with modern smartphones – I enjoy the ever changing and ever challenging world of personal technology.

On to February …… and re-awakening some dormant cameras!
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2023 Vision

Looking at 2023
Looking at 2023

And so 2023 begins.
This it the third year of my online Journal, and each year has confounded my thoughts as I sat and looked into the possible shape of the coming months. Maybe weaving plans and expectations for the year ahead is not really a wise move!
But it’s a natural, human thing to do … to make shapes of the future, and to make stories of our past. Maybe all journals should be written only in retrospect.
I confess that I have fewer ideas about what lies ahead in 2023 – fewer than I expected I’d have. The last 3 years have completely shaken up all our plans and expectations. I guess that is the nature of a pandemic – a global event that reshapes the world. All I can do is describe where I am now, where the UK is now, and where the wider world is now … as seen from this small corner of the Scottish highlands.

Personally we (Mike and I) still treat the pandemic as active, along with ‘flu and several other winter infections. So we live a quiet life of ‘shielding’ and wear masks when shopping etc. This is unusual now, as most people try to act as if the pandemic is over. But cases are still fluctuating, and the advice in Scotland has changed to mask wearing in crowded public places – ventilation and social distancing.
There is no functioning NHS. Under-funded and overstretched for 13 years it is collapsing around us. Indeed all public services are collapsing: teachers, local government workers, train drivers, social care workers … so many are striking after 13 years of ‘austerity’ which meant pay freezes all round.
The tipping point came in the final months of last year, as rocketing inflation has driven more workers to need Food Banks to even eat minimally. The UK government is doing nothing, waiting for ‘public opinion’ to turn against the strikers, and the strikers to be starved back to work.
It sounds Dickensian, doesn’t it …. and it feels Dickensian too, living through it!

January …and the journey begins with some new delights.
February …… and re-awakening some dormant cameras!
March ….. and the indoor winter experience
April …. and a look at how Covid had changed our tech. lives
May … and it is shaping up to be another drought and heatwave

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2022 December

Calendar for December 2022
Calendar for December 2022

And so the third year of my online Journal draws to a close.
For us December is our month of celebrations, as it holds all our personal anniversaries as well as Christmas and Hogmanay. But this year there are both personal and less personal reasons to stop and look back … to pause and take stock before we move into the new year that lies before us.

The national (UK wide) situation is the worst it has been since the Tories took over the government in 2010. It has been 13 years of wage freezes, savage cuts to infrastructure spending, a widening of the gap between the deprived north and the well-funded south of the country, and the creation of more millionaires and billionaires than ever. Rich and poor now live in separate universes.
Overt and covert government policies have intentionally widened the gap. And Brexit, Covid and the war in Ukraine have together turned the gap into a growing chasm. When you have highly qualified teachers and nurses dependant on food banks, you are fools if you can’t see that you have led the country into disaster!
There is so much more to say about this past 13 years, but maybe this is not the place to contemplate the grim realities of 21st century Tory Britain. This is a more personal space ….

So how are we coping?
We find ourselves doing daily checks of electricity usage, and cutting back on using the dishwasher, oven, hobs … using slow cookers and the Instant Pot (pressure cooker) and microwave. Both washing machine and baths are closely monitored too. It feel like a return to the 1950s, something I never imagined!
Of course for us the bulk of our heating and hot water is oil-fired, and that has not been capped or controlled at all. Our last 6-monthly bill was 50% more expensive than the one before. That usage we cannot control, as winter started here in October, and 24/7 heating is essential in northern Scotland.
Food bills are ever increasing too. Regular grocery shopping costs roughly double what it cost a year ago. Petrol for the car too. There is nothing that has not seen a huge cost increase. And as pensioners we cannot add to our income to compensate. The picture is bleak as we survey the month that should see us celebrating.

Together Mike and I keep ourselves alert to the outside world, and engaged with world and national events … but try to keep a perspective that will allow for us to laugh and enjoy our time together living in such a quiet, rural and beautiful part of the world. Every sunrise and sunset, seen from a garden that is full of plants, bushes, and trees … and equally full of birds and insects. A regular shopping trip that takes through beautiful countryside. There is much to value and enjoy!
For me it is the creative world of photography and painting that keeps me optimistic and gives me most enjoyment. If I can create an image that makes me smile, that takes skill and thoughtfulness, and reflects the world around me … then I am content.

The month began with us remembering last December, when Storm Arwen devastated large swathes of Aberdeenshire. We learnt valuable lessons from 6 days without power in the freezing cold.

dark nights and candles 2

This December we checked our emergency generator, power banks, stores of calor gas, coal and logs … we were determined not to be caught out again! This year it was a 10-day deep freeze that we were treated to! Temperatures down to -10c, and sunshine that melted the surface snow enough to freeze solid again overnight. Eventually we decided we had to fight our way into the cars, to run the engines for a while. Two days of chipping away at the ice got us into them … and we have kept them as frost free as we can ever since!

dark nights and candles

December was also a time to remember our losses. The funeral for David, my brother, was held in the middle of the month. We could only attend remotely, but modern connectivity allowed to watch the service. Even at a distance it was moving.

And so the year ends, and we turn our eyes towards the new year. This year I admit to feelings of anxiety, and even dread, as I wonder what lies in store for us in 2023. With a government hanging on with a deadly grip, doing nothing to improve the situation that they have created, yet stubbornly refusing to call a general election … things look to get worse!

And so on to 2023, and the year turns

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2022 November

November 2022 calendar
November 2022 calendar

November begins almost without my noticing it!

I am more focussed on the after-effects of October’s latest bi-valent vaccination. Put together with the latest winter ‘flu jab it makes a powerful challenge to my body. Already weakened by decades of Post-Viral syndrome (which is in reality a pre-covid Long Covid state) my body has been asked to cope with so many Covid vaccines, topped up with annual ‘flu jabs too. Prior to the pandemic I refused the annual ‘flu jab, as it wiped out too much vital energy. I relied on Mike’s vaccination to protect me through the ‘flu season.

But Covid has been a real game-changer. It meant a year ‘shielding’ before the medical wonder of the first vaccines began to appear. It was 2020 when I started this online version of my Journal, learning WordPress so as to revive my long dormant website. I thought the highlight of the achievement would be the luxury of putting my photography together with my written journal. Little did I know that it would become my personal Journal of the 21st century Covid pandemic!

So here we are with “the pandemic is over” chorus from the UK government and Covid cases are rising, as are ‘flu cases, along with a few other winter visiting viruses floating around too. Statistics on Covid are very sketchy now, as the UK government is dismantling ALL the infrastructure and research labs etc. that could form the front line defences against the next pandemic that is forming somewhere out there. If there is one overwhelming lesson that Covid has taught the world it is that global travel is the sure-fire way to create and spread a viral infection! On the next level down, travel within your country is the quickest way to spread infections, and on the local level it is meetings in public spaces with little or no air circulation. So masks and hand sanitisers, open windows and minimal gatherings are our individual defences.

After the Spring and summer of drought we are now in a phase of torrential rain alternating with deep freezes! We used one freezing morning to tackle the large freezer. Stacking the baskets of frozen items on the patio, we used the steam cleaner to break up the ice that has accumulated over the past year. We ended up with both us and the carpet soaked, but about 25% more storage space in the freezer itself!

And another milestone. I decided to try out the “Scan and Shop” app for M&S at our local Food Hall. I needed help for the initial foray, but feel that I have got the basics sorted. Might as well use my smartphone whenever I can! Inverurie is our main shopping town (as we have no shops at all in the village). So Tesco and M&S provide the choices for groceries. Aberdeen is an 80 mile round trip – Inverurie just 30 miles.

But the big news for me came in the middle of the month. My brother, David has died.
He is the first of us three children to die, and memories of my childhood, and my brother then, came flooding back.
He was my big brother, and quite protective of me, being 8 years older. He helped me when I struggled (being undiagnosed dyslexic) and encouraged my love of music (we shared a love of opera).
When your parents die there is an irrational feeling of being somehow an orphan. Odd, but so true! Those who knew you from the day you were born, and knew so much about you and your siblings that you had forgotten, are suddenly not there. All the unanswered questions, or sudden revelations that put a deeper meaning on a remembered event – those moments are lost forever.
This is another feeling …. for me it brought home the years – decades – that have been lost due to the Post Viral effects that wiped out my life as it was in the mid 1980s. Finally with the advent of Long Covid there was the chance of an understanding of what had happened to me then. I always felt David hadn’t really believed in the extent of the total wipe-out of life as I had known it. And that made communications somewhat awkward and strained. Now that opportunity is forever lost too, along with all the memories of when we were young!

And so on to December, where winter takes hold

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